Ethanol from beer and garbage?
There’ll be plenty of beer consumed at next week’s Democratic National Convention in Denver. Not all of it will induce hangovers. A fleet of GM flex-fuel vehicles transporting delegates, members of the press and other convention guests will be running on clean-burning ethanol, derived from waste beer produced by MillerCoors. The program is the latest headline-grabber for the growing ethanol industry, but it also highlights the evolution of biofuel technology. As the debate continues about the merits of traditional corn-based ethanol, newer forms of ethanol are emerging. From waste beer to landfill waste, these newer forms of ethanol promise an environmental double, fuel that burns cleaner AND reduces waste.
Coors is the nation’s first major brewer to convert its waste beer into ethanol. The company began recycling waste beer – beer lost during packaging or deemed below quality standards – and converting it to ethanol in 1996, in a facility owned by Merrick & Company and operated by Coors. Today the Golden ethanol facility produces about three million gallons of ethanol per year. The production of ethanol from waste beer also helps Coors eliminate about 70 tons of VOCs (volatile organic compounds) from its emissions annually.
For GM’s part, the move is meant to reflect it’s stated commitment to developing ethanol-powered vehicles and cleaner techologies. Their “Live Green Go Yellow” initiative seeks to promote ethanol technologies as a viable alternative.
Similarly,BlueFire Ethanol , an Irvine, CA-based company, is developing production of ethanol from urban trash, rice and wheat straws, wood waste and other agricultural residues. Their efforts represent a growing interest in technologies that convert biomass into ethanol.
Biomass feedstocks include:
* agricultural residues (straws, corn stalks and cobs, bagasse, cotton gin trash, palm oil wastes, etc.),
* crops grown specifically for their biomass (grasses, sweet sorghum, fast growing trees, etc.),
* paper (recycled newspaper, paper mill sludge’s, sorted municipal solid waste, etc.),
* wood wastes (prunings, wood chips, sawdust, etc.), and
* green wastes (leaves, grass clippings, vegetable and fruit wastes, etc.).
A growing number of companies and communities are investing in this biomass to ethanol techology. In the United Kingdom, an ‘energy-from-waste’ plant is under construction, promising to divert 300,000 tons of waste annually from landfills and generate power for 24,000 homes.
Whether ethanol is the future of clean-fuel technology is up for debate. But it could be that beer and garbage will be the future of ethanol.